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Qualified early childhood teachers could earn more working in a supermarket, says centre boss

Early childhood centre teachers could earn more money working in a supermarket, says one manager, as the long-running issue of pay parity continues.

The average pre-tax pay of early childhood centre teaching staff is $26.78-an-hour but some certified teachers earn close to the minimum wage, which is currently $18.90 an hour.

Salaries vary across the early education sector, with early childhood centre staff paid, on average, $6.49 an hour less their kindergarten counterparts.

Campaigners have long called for pay parity, with salary cited as one of the main reasons for a shortage of early childhood teachers.

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According to the teachers’ union NZEI’s ECE (early childhood education) Voice campaign, enrolments in early childhood teacher training are down 55 per cent since 2010.

An early childhood teacher pay survey from the ChildForum website last week found one-fifth of early childhood teachers were considering leaving the sector due to low pay and conditions of work.

Children aged between two and five attend Avonside Early Childhood Centre, in Christchurch.

STACY SQUIRES/Stuff

Children aged between two and five attend Avonside Early Childhood Centre, in Christchurch.

Sue Downey is the manager and a senior teacher at Avonside Early Childhood Centre in Christchurch, a not-for-profit service which has operated since the 1940s.

She said early childhood teachers have the same qualifications and do the same amount of training and professional development as primary and kindergarten teachers, but receive significantly less pay.

“We all run on the same regulations, we’ve got the same curriculum. Everything is the same apart from the wage,” she said.

“There is no difference other than kindergartens are in the state sector and community centres are not.”

Avonside has capacity for 30 children, aged two to five, and charges $2 an hour.

Downey said it can be a “struggle” at times.

“The funding rate is different, so kindergartens get higher funding rates than ECE centres.

“It’s really hard now to retain stuff. Why would you want to work in an early childhood centre when you can get more money working in a supermarket?”

Sue Downey, Avonside Early Childhood Centre manager, says pay is a factor in teacher retention.

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Sue Downey, Avonside Early Childhood Centre manager, says pay is a factor in teacher retention.

She said wages at community centres like Avonside and Barnardos Early Learning Centres should be brought in line with those paid at kindergartens.

“Balancing the books each week, it’s pretty hard when you are just trying to get into the black.”

Aaron Caldwell, 40, graduated from University of Canterbury last year and has a degree and an early childhood teaching diploma.

He worked as a reliever at Avonside for about a year before taking on a permanent role in June.

He said there is a “big gap” between teachers and those in primary or kindergarten.

He earns just over $24 an hour but said the pay difference is less for newly qualified staff than more experienced staff, as there is a higher salary cap for kindergarten and primary school teachers.

“I’m not in this to make a lot of money, I knew it was not a sector you go into to become rich, it’s something you do when you have a passion for it.”

Avonside Early Childhood Centre, a not-for-profit centre in Christchurch.

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Avonside Early Childhood Centre, a not-for-profit centre in Christchurch.

NZEI, Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand (ECNZ) and Barnardos are jointly calling on the Government to remedy inequities in teachers’ pay.

Ministry of Education deputy secretary Andrea Schollmann, said in this year’s Budget the Government provided a $151.1 million funding boost over four years “to improve the pay of up to 17,000 qualified teachers working in education and care services”.

“As part of this initiative, the minimum salary for qualified and certificated teachers increased to $49,862 from July 1, 2020. We would expect this funding boost to assist with teacher retention.”

She said the Government does not own or directly control early learning services, so pay rates are ultimately negotiated between teachers and their employer.

“Because of this, there will be differences between employers and regions when it comes to teacher salaries.”

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